Profiling « Clarinet Reed Making

Profiling

Uhl4Profiling the vamp is the last major step in creating your reed.  All profiling machines work on the same principles, and operate much like a key cutting machine.  Esentially a cutter follows a template to create the final vamp on the blank.  Most machines can use actual reeds as templates, others give you the option of a premade template made of a harder material.  There are advantages and disadvantages of each template type. With a cane template it’s easy to adjust the template and experiment, though you sacrifice accuracy and the cane template will wear out and need to be replaced.  Plastic or metal templates, while less amenable to experimentation will not wear out.  I highly recommend a solid template once you discover which vamp type works best for your playing style.

Profiling and The Strength Myth

This was addressed in the reed myths section but I’d like to review it because it is such a hard notion to shake and can lead often lead to mistakes in the profiling process.  I’m often asked questions like “what strength reeds do you make?” or “do you use a 3.5 strength model reed?”. The answer is, it doesn’t quite work like that.  Adjusting the thickness of a reed has less effect in changing the reed strength then many think, and the range of thicknesses at the tip that will yield good results is quite narrow. All reeds from any company are made from the exact same templates, to the exact same thickness and then sorted for strength after clipping.

When making your own reeds there are a few strategies that you can employ to get yourself closer to the right strength.  Cane is the single biggest factor, some brands of cane tend to run hard and some tend to run soft. I’ve eliminated some brands of cane for this reason alone, I simply couldn’t get the right strength for my mouthpiece.  There are also decisions that you make along the way that may affect strength to a small degree.  For example a thinner blank might tend to produce harder reeds, or a small diameter piece of a cane will tend to produce harder rails on the final reed which might be desirable for some players.

During the profiling process it’s important to have a ballpark measurement in mind first and then try to achieve those results.  The most critical area of any reed is the tip, you should aim for anywhere from 0.09mm to 0.11mm.  Much thinner and things get mushy and if you go much thicker you start to sacrifice response.  Because the tip area is so critical and the zone of acceptable results is so small, there is a very narrow band that you have to work with when adjusting your overall vamp thickness.  So after choosing the cane that is right for you and the tip thickness that feels the best the reed must be clipped to strength.  A wide range of strengths can be achieved in a very small clipping range(a millimeter or so surrounding the ‘ideal’ tip area).  This is covered in greater depth in the section on clipping.

Final Thoughts

Ideally you want your profiler to be capable of making exact 1:1 copies(or very close to it) and not all profiling machines available are up to this task.  If the machine is not up the task there are usually steps you can take to improve the performance but in the end the reeds will require more hand finishing than if they were made on a higher grade machine.  In this situation I would recommend making the reeds all slightly thick and finishing them by hand with sandpaper. This does not mean great reeds cannot be made, it will just require more time and effort and the results won’t be as consistent.